Since late-2017, IP has been keeping close tabs on a particular fund of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative called the CZI Community Fund. This fund embodies the local giving efforts of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan since the tech power couple took a big step in 2017 to expand its local work and address some of the most critical issues facing Silicon Valley communities today. Specific communities on the CZI Community Fund’s radar are Belle Haven, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, and Redwood City.
From the beginning, the couple has emphasized taking a bottom-up approach to local grantmaking, which is in contrast to past investments that have been criticized for being on the top-down end of the spectrum. We’ve predicted that going the bottom-up route would spark less backlash and be more effective overall, but it’s still a pretty new organization that may still have some lessons to learn.
The CZI Community Fund’s very first round of grantmaking was announced in early 2018, with grants ranging in amount from $25,000 to $100,000 given to 41 organizations. Initially, this fund was mostly focused on the local issues of education, homelessness, housing, immigration, transportation, and workforce development.
To learn more about the CZI Community Fund’s initial local giving strategy, we had gotten in touch with Cristina Huezo, the program and policy officer of the family foundation and specifically for the Bay Area. To start, we asked Huezo what sets this funder’s local strategy apart from other grantmakers in the area. She explained that idea behind the CZI Community Fund grew out of ongoing work around education, housing, and other local priorities, where it was able to learn from local groups deeply entrenched in Bay Area issues.
We wanted a dedicated way to be able to support more community-driven solutions and respond to emerging local needs that may go beyond our core work around education, science, and justice and opportunity. As we began thinking about creating a community fund, we met with parents, local leaders, students through town hall meetings, conversations, and surveys to get a sense of the most pressing issues they face and their vision for thriving communities. These conversations shaped – and will continue to shape – the design and focus of the CZI Community Fund. Our first grants from the CZI Community Fund focused on education, homelessness, housing, immigration, transportation, and workforce development in their local communities, areas identified by local residents as top priorities.
About thirty of the first CZI Community Fund grants addressed the issue of education, which indicated that this was definitely a top local priority for the couple. However, many of the education-related grants that the fund made touched on multiple other issues as well. Take for example, the grant to Belle Haven Action, which advocates for equity and justice, acts as a local liaison for community projects, and initiates and supports new and existing programs for improved quality of life. Several other early grants had components of education as well as workforce development and immigration too. For example, the grant to Free at Last: Recovery and Rehabilitation Services actually addressed five out of the couple’s six current issues areas.
To get a sense of where the minds of the CZI Community Fund staff and board were in the beginning, we asked Huezo what they feel the most urgent local needs were in Silicon Valley.
“Of these priorities, housing affordability rises to the top,” she said. “Community members shared that they often feel left out of economic growth in the Bay Area and at risk of being pushed out of their communities by high housing costs and limited supply.”
This funder has built a program that’s specifically dedicated to working on affordable housing issues. To that end, grants from the CZI Community Fund supplement Chan-Zuckerberg’s ongoing work around local housing affordability.
Examples of our work on housing affordability include supporting Bay Area community groups who are developing a regional housing affordability advocacy strategy; investing in a company called Landed that is helping educators buy homes near where they work; supporting legal aid to help more residents stay in their homes; supporting researcher Matt Desmond’s new project on housing insecurity called EvictionLab; and other efforts to help more people find housing that meets their needs.
Something else that we noticed about the fund’s first round of grants was that an overwhelming number of them touched more than one of the four cities in focus. Almost all of the initial grants served more than one community, perhaps to maximize the fund’s resources and get the word out locally about how this fund wants to get involved in community affairs.
At least initially, it made sense for the fund’s first grants to take a broad approach and cast a wide net. While everyone in the region is familiar with the names Zuckerberg and Chan, not everyone knew about this very targeted local effort. So, this was an ideal time to build awareness and make connections to potentially last for many years to come.
Huezo said, “This fund is designed to be nimble and responsive to local needs, so we will continue to incorporate feedback from these communities about which issues should be the focus of each round of grantmaking.”
More recently in late-January 2019, news came out about the second batch CZI Community grants, as well as the funder’s new and emerging areas of interest. A total of 37 local organizations received CZI Community Fund support in this second round of giving, with grants in the $25,000 to $100,000 range.
A prior press release about the funder’s invitation to local Bay Area groups to apply for this new funding through the CZI Community Fund indicated, “This second round of funding will prioritize organizations working to address basic and most urgent needs of at-risk and vulnerable individuals or families.”
But what’s most significant about these latest grants is that a few new focus areas emerged as priorities in 2019. Local communities were consulted and identified that the needs are great for certain services and therefore warrant the CZI Community Fund’s financial support. These emerging interests and new funding topics are food security, safety/security, and mental health/health care. New food security grantees include the Ecumenical Hunger Program and St. Anthony’s Padua Dining Room. New security/safety grantees include Adolescent Counseling Services and Project WeHOPE, and new mental health/health care grantees are Community Gatepath and the Ravenswood Family Health Center. Furthermore, a majority of these second round grants serve all four communities of Belle Haven, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, and Redwood City.
Last year, applications were due to the CZI Community Fund in mid-September, so we’re expecting to see news about proposals being accepted for 2020 grants sometime this summer. It’s not clear whether CZI Community Fund grantmaking will shift of expand even further in 2020, but based upon what the staff has been talking about on its blog, top interests of CZI lately include the intersection of social-emotional learning and academic success, regional housing, and youth homelessness.